Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein will likely indict Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on his alleged breach of trust but will forego criminal charges over the most damning allegations surrounding his business dealings, Channel 2 reported Tuesday.
The decision, which could potentially damage Lieberman's political career and possibly prevent him from holding on to his current position, comes after an unusually long investigation that resulted in inconclusive evidence.
According to the Channel 2 report, the Yisrael Beytenu leader will be charged with breach of trust for allegedly trying to promote former Israeli Ambassador to Belarus Ze'ev Ben Aryeh because the latter provided him with inside information on the investigation into Lieberman's business dealings.
In his draft indictment from April 2011, Weinstein accused Lieberman of fraud, breach of trust, accepting money under false pretenses and in aggravated circumstances, money laundering and witness tampering. The offenses were allegedly committed as part of his business dealings between 2001 and 2008. During part of that period, he was also an MK and a cabinet minister.
Lieberman allegedly received millions of dollars that had been wired by foreign businessmen to shell corporations he controlled.
Weinstein conducted a pretrial hearing for Lieberman several months ago to allow Lieberman to explain his conduct before he filed an official indictment. The prosecution's case was later compromised after one of its key witnesses died from a stroke and another witness turned hostile. Legal experts believe these circumstances led to most of the charges being dropped in the final indictment, as it would be extremely difficult to convict Lieberman without the solid evidence the witnesses' testimonies could have provided.
If Weinstein does indict Lieberman over the one count of breach of trust, Lieberman would have to explain why he helped Ben Aryeh to be appointed as the head of the Israeli mission in Latvia and prove this promotion was not influenced by the latter disclosing sensitive information on the Israel Police's ongoing investigation. His appointment as ambassador to Latvia was later nullified.
Ben Aryeh, who was later convicted of mishandling confidential information and obstructing justice, provided Lieberman with details on the correspondence between Israeli law enforcement officials and Belarusian authorities. As the Israeli ambassador, Ben Aryeh was the liaison between the Israeli prosecutors and the Belarus law enforcement agencies.
In his draft indictment in April, Weinstein wrote that Lieberman "tried, as foreign minister, to promote a certain individual who had provided him with privileged information on the criminal investigation that the Israel Police had been conducting overseas, details of which had been shared with that individual in his capacity as the Israeli ambassador to Belarus.
"In an effort to see that the truth does not come to light, and in an attempt to obscure his actions, Lieberman engaged in witness tampering by conversing with an individual who was under investigation," Weinstein wrote. It's still unclear whether Lieberman will be charged with witness tampering in the final indictment.
An indictment against Lieberman would disqualify him as a cabinet minister and force his resignation from the government, thanks to a High Court of Justice ruling from the 1990s that prevents ministers from holding a ministerial portfolio so long as they were on trial in cases involving major offenses. Lieberman might pre-empt such action by signing a plea bargain. Lieberman would still be able to run for the Knesset in the upcoming elections, but he would be denied a seat at the cabinet table throughout the duration of his trial and possible appeals until a final verdict.
The Justice Ministry refused to comment on the Channel 2 report, but stressed that Weinstein was going to make a final decision in the Lieberman case in December, as he has pledged before the High Court of Justice.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel petitioned the High Court to have Weinstein and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador render a decision before the Jan. 22 elections to avoid what it called a violation of Lieberman's right to a speedy trial. It also warned that the public's trust in the justice system may suffer if the investigation continued without resolution.
On Tuesday, Lador said that the disagreements at the top echelons of the State Prosecutor's Office are the reason for the protracted deliberations in the case. Lador was speaking at an event hosted by the Israel Bar Association's National Criminal Law Forum in Tel Aviv.
Lador did not mention any specific names, but he presumably referred to the diverging views that the State Prosecution and the attorney-general hold on how to pursue the case, with the latter having the final word. Lador said he was "not proud" of the lengthy investigation in the Lieberman case, saying that a decision was expected shortly.